The regimentally unique group of orders and decorations to Brigadier-General Cecil Faber...
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The regimentally unique group of orders and decorations to Brigadier-General Cecil Faber Aspinall-Oglander, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., Royal Munster Fusiliers, chief of staff of the Royal Naval Division in France, and more widely known as one of General Sir Ian Hamilton's most trusted aides throughout the Gallipoli campaign, of which he was author of the Official History.
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Companion’s neck badge (military), silver-gilt and enamelled; The Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George, Companion’s neck badge, silver-gilt and enamelled; Distinguished Service Order, G.V.R.; Ashanti 1900, no clasp (Lieut. C.F. ASPINALL R. Muns. Fus.), engraved; Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 2nd type, 4 clasps: Cape Colony, Orange Free State, South Africa 1901, South Africa 1902 (Lieut. C.F. ASPINALL, R. Muns: Fus:), engraved; India General Service 1908-35, 1 clasp: North West Frontier 1908 (Lieut. C.F. Aspinall, 1st Rl. M. Fus.); 1914-15 Star (CAPT. C.F. ASPINALL. R. MUNS. FUS.); British War and Victory Medals (BRIG. GEN. C.F. ASPINALL.); Delhi Durbar 1911, silver (CAPT. C.F. ASPINALL ROYAL MUNSTER FUSILIERS) privately engraved; France: Legion of Honour, Officer’s breast badge, gilt and enamelled; Siam: Order of the White Elephant, 1st type, Second Class set of insignia, comprising neck badge and breast star.
C.B. London Gazette 1 January 1919: Maj. and Bt. Lt.-Col. (T./Brig.-Gen.), R. Muns.Fus
‘For valuable services rendered in connection with the military operations in France and Flanders’.
C.M.G. London Gazette 14 March 1916: Major (temporary Lieutenant-Colonel), Royal Munster Fusiliers
‘For distinguished services rendered in connection with the withdrawal of the Force from the Gallipoli Peninsula’.
D.S.O. London Gazette 4 June 1917: Maj. & Bt. Lt.-Col., R. Muns. Fus.
‘For distinguished service in the Field’.
Legion d’Honneur , Chevalier (France) London Gazette 24 February 1916
Order of the White Elephant, 2nd Class (Siam) London Gazette 9 November 1918
Mentioned in Despatches London Gazettes 5 August and 5 November 1915; 6 January, 10 April, 5 May and 13 July 1916; 15 May 1917; 20 May and 20 December 1918.
Cecil Faber Aspinall was born at Wrexham, Denbighshire in 1878 and educated at the Isle of Wight College and at Rugby. He entered the Army via commissions in the Volunteers (4th East Surrey) and the Militia (7th Battalion Royal Fusiliers). In 1900, simultaneous commitments to wars in South Africa and China left the Army short of officers to deal with disturbances in other parts of the Empire, such as that which broke out in West Africa in 1900. There, the Ashanti rose in rebellion, besieging the Governor at the inland settlement at Kumassi. Aspinall volunteered as a Special Service Officer, as a result of which he received a commission in the Royal Munster Fusiliers, thus becoming one of only a handful of Munsters officers and men present for this campaign. Attached to the West African Regiment, he joined one of the columns that was struggling from the coast through exceptionally thick bush to put down the rebellion. He was present at the action at Obassa, the last at which the Ashanti confronted the Imperial Forces in significant numbers. The hectic and often close-quarters nature of the fighting is testified to by the citation to the Victoria Cross earned there by one of his fellow officers, Major John Melliss. This first taste of battle brought Aspinall himself a mention in despatches (London Gazette March 8 1901): "a general advance of three companies took place with two in support and Sikhs in reserve, one company of the West African Regiment on our right under Captain St. Hill, with Lieutenant Aspinall, doing particularly good work and driving the enemy back on the village of Obassa."
Having made it to South Africa in time to see service against the Boers, Aspinall accompanied 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers to India at the conclusion of the war and was present during its participation in the expeditions against the Zakha Khels and Mohmands on the North West Frontier in 1908. He earned a place on the course at the Indian Staff College, Quetta, and successful graduation was followed by a post at GHQ India, coinciding with the Imperial Durbar held at Delhi in 1911. Aspinall was the only officer of his regiment selected to receive its commemorative medal.
Returning to England in 1913, Aspinall was posted to the War Office and had the unusual assignment of spending four months on a tour of Europe with Prince Prajadhipok of Siam (the future King Rama VII), who was educated at Eton and afterwards studied for a commission in the Royal Artillery. When in France four years later, Aspinall came into contact with the Siamese military delegation; his earlier services were recalled and recognised by appointment to the Siamese Order of the White Elephant (“for the kind services which you have rendered and the interest you have always taken in Siam and the Siamese”).
At the outbreak of the Great War Aspinall continued in a temporary position at the War Office while he waited for a regimental vacancy to become available. Successfully interviewed in March 1915 for appointment as second-in-command of the newly-forming Welsh Guards, the very next day he was abruptly informed that he would be joining the staff of Sir Ian Hamilton's Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, leaving immediately.
The Dardanelles Campaign
Having spent the previous night at the War Office completing the embarkation tables for the force, Aspinall left with Hamilton and his advance party of a dozen officers on 13th March. After crossing the Channel by destroyer, the party travelled by special train to Marseilles and there embarked in another destroyer, H.M.S. Phaeton, which delivered them in rapid time to the island of Tenedos (off the coast of Turkey) on the 17th, to confer with Rear Admiral de Robeck (Naval C-in-C) and his French counterparts. The following day, still aboard Phaeton, Aspinall had his first sight of the Gallipoli Peninsula as they conducted a reconnaissance of possible landing places, then witnessed the failure of the last of the Royal Navy's attempts to force the Straits of Constantinople by sea power alone. The requirement to use land forces had been placed beyond doubt, and it was to this object that Hamilton and his staff now turned their attention.
Correspondence clearly indicates that Aspinall was one of Hamilton's most trusted officers and he features often in his chief's published diaries of the Dardanelles campaign. During the initial landings at Cape Helles on 25th April he accompanied the C-in-C aboard the battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth. Instructions for this group indicated that they had to be prepared to land when necessary, to act as Hamilton's eyes and ears on the ground. This could be very much a 'hands on' role, as one episode recorded by Hamilton recounts:
"A certain number of stragglers were slipping quietly back towards Cape Helles along the narrow sandy strip at the foot of the high cliffs, so, as it was flat calm, I sent Aspinall off in a small boat with orders to rally them. He rowed to the South so as to head them off and as the dinghy drew in to the shore we saw one of them strip and swim out to sea to meet it half way... After landing, a show of force was needed to pull the fugitives up but once they did pull up they were splendid, and volunteered to a man to follow Aspinall back into the firing line. Many of them were wounded and the worst of these were put into a picket boat that had just that moment come along. One of the men seemed pretty bad, being hit in the head and in the body. He wanted to join in but, naturally, was forbidden to do so. Aspinall then led his little party back and climbed the cliff. When he got to the top and looked round he found this severely wounded man had not only disobeyed orders and followed him, but had found strength to lug up a box of ammunition with him. "I ordered you not to come" said Aspinall: "I can still pull a trigger, Sir," replied the man."
Such episodes set the pattern for the coming months, and Aspinall often accompanied the C-in-C on tours of the peninsula, or afloat in the Royal Navy's warships offshore.
From July 1915, Aspinall moved up to the key position of Hamilton's Chief of Operations. With progress stagnating, he was instrumental in formulating and planning the new landings at Suvla, intended to cut across the Gallipoli Peninsula and isolate the continuing opposition at the site of the original landings. As operations commenced at Suvla in August, it fell to Aspinall as the man on the spot to alert Hamilton to Lt.-Gen. Stopfords's failure to press home the advantage: "Just been ashore where I found all quiet. No rifle fire, no artillery fire and apparently no Turks. Feel confident that golden opportunities are being lost and look upon the situation as serious." When he finally managed to see Hamilton in person, the latter’s diary records “Aspinall now turned up. He was in a fever; said our chances were being thrown away with both hands”. Such misgivings were not misplaced.
Continuing to serve under Hamilton’s replacement, Sir William Birdwood, Aspinall’s greatest contribution in this theatre was yet to come, through his lead role in planning the spectacularly successful withdrawals from Suvla and Anzac Cove in December and from Helles in January. These were accomplished without the loss of a single man, before the Turks were even aware they were under way. Admiral de Robeck wrote to Hamilton “All credit is due to the staff who worked out the scheme and carried it through. Nobody deserves more credit than Aspinall and Mitchell [the Naval Advisor at GHQ]”. Years later, in The Times, Lord Freyberg VC wrote in his appreciation published with Aspinall’s obituary “I remember vividly the talk at the time that it was estimated we would be lucky if we saved 30 per cent of our forces. Actually we lost no one. And praise for wise and skilful planning must go to the staff of which Cecil Aspinall was a senior member.”
Aspinall’s services at Gallipoli were recognised by a CMG, the French Legion d’Honneur and six of the ten Mentions in Despatches that he was to accumulate during the war. He was also confirmed in the Brevet rank of Lieutenant-Colonel (following his Brevet of Major achieved earlier in the campaign), a promotion for which both Hamilton and Birdwood agitated strongly behind the scenes. When it was finally gazetted, Hamilton wrote to Aspinall “I can truly say that no honour which has appeared during the campaign has given me more pleasure than yours. Of course you ought to be a full Colonel, but never mind…”
A final summation of Aspinall’s contribution to the historic episode at the Dardanelles can be drawn from the words of one of his closest colleagues, Guy Dawnay, writing to a mutual friend: “He has had great responsibilities, and often considerable difficulties to contend with, and I can only say that I hardly think it would be possible to say too much of what he has done. His sound judgement, unsparing energy, and unfailing confidence have been among the chief assets of the Expeditionary Force.”
France and the Royal Naval Division
Aspinall’s talents were now turned to the war on the Western Front. After a few months on Sir Douglas Haig’s staff (taking in the Somme offensive), in August 1916 he was appointed Chief Staff Officer of the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division, a formation with which he had become familiar at Gallipoli.
The Division’s first major action in France came in November, in the final phase of the Somme operations, when it was assigned to the capture of Beaucourt in the Battle of the Ancre. Although obtained at the cost of heavy casualties, the RND’s part in the battle was a notable success and resulted in the first breach of the Hindenburg Line. Lord Freyburg, who earned his VC at Beaucourt in command of Hood battalion, credited Aspinall with much of the complex planning which contributed to the achievement. It was afterwards written that this unique division not only secured its reputation in this battle, but a confidence in its own fighting capacity which contributed much to its future efficiency.
Aspinall remained in post during the RND’s continuing operations in the Ancre Valley in early 1917, and also for its next major test, the assault on Gavrelle during the Battle of Arras in April. Here once again the division achieved its objective and in grand style, successfully repulsing repeated enemy counter-attacks. The series of operations brought Aspinall another Mention, and the D.S.O. in the next half-yearly list.
In November 1917 Aspinall moved up to be Brigadier-General General Staff of VIII Corps under Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston, an eccentric commander with whom he had first served at Gallipoli. He would remain in this appointment for the rest of the war.
Aspinall retired from the Army in 1920. Five years later he was approached by the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence to write the official history of the Gallipoli campaign. This was a task of some delicacy and Aspinall was in fact the third to attempt it, the first of his predecessors having succumbed to ill-health and the second removed for what was perceived to be an overly critical attitude. In the words of Andrew Green in ‘Writing the Great War’: “In spite of attempts by the War Office, Foreign Office, Australian government and a number of high-ranking military officers to influence the tone and content of his work, Aspinall-Oglander succeeded in publishing an Official History not just of great academic integrity but of great literary interest.” The first volume of “Military Operations: Gallipoli” appeared in 1929; the second followed in 1932, both to positive critical reception.
Retirement to Nunwell
From his marriage to Joan Oglander in 1927, Brig.-Gen. Aspinall-Oglander made his home at the Nunwell estate on the Isle of Wight, in the possession of his wife’s family since Norman times. He developed a deep affection for the ancient house and in 1945 published “Nunwell Symphony”, an account of its history. Among his other publications was a biography of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes, an old colleague of Gallipoli days. During the second world war he raised and commanded the 20th (East Wight) Battalion, Hampshire Home Guard, as well as the 1st Wight Cadet Battalion. He died at Nunwell in 1959.